Exploring Arts & Nature in Northern New Hampshire

Although I may not have been able to articulate it six months ago, I think one of the areas in which the Arts Alliance most distinguishes itself is environmental arts. Between showings of the documentary “Mother Nature’s Child”, workshops on Environmental Literacy & the Arts (where lessons included the creation of nature journals and discussions addressed ways to develop writing and other curricula with students in an outdoor learning environment), and of course the White Mountain National Forest Artist in Residence summer program, I’ve gotten to learn about and experience the power — and natural fit — of arts in nature in myriad ways since I began my work with the Arts Alliance last fall.

Living where I do in Franconia, I am closer to – and more in dialogue with – nature than I’ve ever been. As a kid, I felt connected to the outdoors, spending entire days in the woods by my suburban home, communing with caterpillars and writing journal entries and stories by the light of the sun filtering through the trees. Now I am constantly bombarded by new experiences in the North Country. From starting my car at -8 degrees, to walking across the street to go for a hike and a picnic by a waterfall, to seeing my first moose cross the road by my apartment, to standing in our driveway, surrounded by fields and fields of fireflies — we are so lucky to have these incredible nature-based experiences at our fingertips. Not to mention that while I could see lots of stars growing up, the skies here definitely have suburban New Hampshire beat!

It’s no wonder that artists have been coming up here to capture the beauty of our area throughout the past two centuries. We of course continue the tradition with our White Mountain National Forest Artist in Residence – Susie O’Keeffe is this year’s artist, and I can’t wait to see what insights come from her time in the Wilderness! She’s an artist of many talents and interests, and her main area of study explores the power and importance of spending time with and in nature – a good bit of therapy for all of us! You can learn more about her here.

This summer, we kick off a new youth arts program at the Arts Alliance of Northern NH. We’ve wanted to do this for a while: the goal is to give high school students interested in the arts a place where they can meet other young people from around northern NH, get hands-on opportunities working with professional artists of all types and become more connected to the arts organizations in the region. We anticipate that volunteer options, job shadowing and lots of leadership opportunities will come out of this, and we’ll be designing the program with the students themselves.

Why do I mention this here? Well, we’re actually beginning with an arts & the environment program this summer. Students entering grades 9-12 can join us in Bethlehem, where they’ll work with a photographer, a poet, two painters and an eco-artist and curator. By the end of the program (which starts July 1 and meets over four days in July), they’ll have worked together to create a variety of artwork inspired by the environment – and they’ll have curated their own art show to share with the community. You (and any youth who might be interested) can learn more about it here. I can’t wait! (We’re also partnering with the “Girls of Summer” program in Lincoln, offering participants time with the same artists.)

Do you ever make art in, or inspired by, nature? I’d love for you to leave your comments here. We’re also looking for adults interested in helping us to craft the youth program, so don’t hesitate to reach out on that either. Thanks for reading, and enjoy all of the beauty around you this summer!

 

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Oops! Why I Finally “Get” The Arts-Based Classroom

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the arts in education. As a music and theater instructor, I love to teach the arts, and I’ve taught the arts in plenty of preschool and kindergarten settings. But it wasn’t until recently, in my work with AANNH, that I started to get excited about all of the ways that arts permeate good classroom teaching. I didn’t think, for instance, of using a fifth grade classroom as a setting for arts-based learning.  Now, I’m not saying I didn’t know it could happen – but it was never something I articulated,  and much as I love the arts, perhaps an arts-based classroom seemed like a luxury…not something that everyone could afford.

And yet, when I think about it, what sticks out from fifth grade? The autobiography we had to write – which I got WAY too engrossed in. I think the final product is 120+ pages, and yes, I still have it. And our writing journals – I remember a lot of poetry writing and journaling. My poor writing instructor let me write backwards, so you  had to hold it up to a mirror to see it, for many weeks before saying, “Jamie, I just don’t want to have to keep getting out of bed to go hold your journal up to a mirror when I do grading. Sorry.” Or I think of the awesome talent show we had around the holidays, where one of my friends sang a Mariah Carey song and I recited a Robert Frost poem with a puppet.

Or fourth grade? I remember acting out Aesop’s Fables with puppets in a series of songs and skits. And my first money-making venture was in fourth grade, when I made photocopies of my original stories (based on fictional versions of my classmates) and sold them for $1 each on the playground. Memory says I made about $20! (I also wrote a rap to remember the 10 NH counties.)

You might be thinking that the only reason the arts were so memorable in my education is that I am an “arts person”, but it turns out that arts experiences, whether integrated into a class by the classroom teacher or during special events where an artist comes into the classroom, tend to be what we remember most about our education. And some of the “arts” aren’t things we’d commonly recognize that way, so the creativity we often learn through the arts can translate in ways you wouldn’t expect. Arts jobs can include writers, architects, museum curators, graphic designers, translators, engineers and museum technicians and conservators…and of course without creativity, it’s hard to imagine scientists, computer programmers, or all sorts of other fields! And part of what makes educators so effective is their creativity – great teachers know that the “arts”, in all of its forms, make for excellent teaching methods.

So if the most memorable parts of our education generally involved the arts, it’s pretty clear that if you want your students to remember what they learn for the long term, the arts are an integral piece of that puzzle. Some of you probably think this is common sense, but I think a lot of us, including most of society, either aren’t aware of the importance of the arts in classrooms, or are aware of it but haven’t taken the time to articulate it, like I just did. I’ve been preaching the importance of the arts forever, but had I ever sat down and tried to imagine my education without it? Nope.

What would your education have looked like without the arts? I bet we all have a favorite moment or two, probably for every year we were in school, that involved the arts. (I’d love for you to share an anecdote with me in the comments section!) And if by chance for you they really, truly, weren’t a part of your education, how might your experience have been different if a teacher had encouraged you to act out a story, to create a timeline or write a poem?

I think one of the best things about the Arts Alliance is the quality programing it supports. If AANNH is going to hold an event, it will showcase folks who are the best in their field, with the best training and knowledge of the best resources. Not that there aren’t a lot of great organizations in NH, but you really can’t go wrong in attending one of our conferences, at least from what I can see.

They’re inexpensive. They’re thoroughly researched and well-executed, driven by evidence and the latest thinking, combined with experienced instructors with practical knowledge to share. And they’re fun!

So yes, if I was a teacher needing some professional development credit or a few new ideas for my classroom, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for something interesting.

Coming Soon:

We’ve got a few awesome events coming up. The first is one of our Arts in Early Learning conferences, and this one focuses on the well-loved book Where The Wild Things Are. You can learn more about it here. And if you need any more convincing on how the arts offer great tools for teaching, check out this inspiring article and/or video.

If incorporating environmental literacy through the arts is more relevant to what you do, our second workshop in this series is coming up on November 18th.

And after that, we’ve got a free workshop on Integrated Arts on November 19th with Trisha Lindberg at 4 p.m. From 3-4, we’re having a meetup for anyone interested in the NH Arts Learning Network – please stop by and meet me!

So between that and a bunch of networking events to spread the word about us and our members, I’ve got a lot on my plate this week, but I’m thrilled to dive in.

Final note? If you’re an Arts Alliance member, on November 13th we’ll be at the Coos County Business Expo. We’ll have a table set up to showcase the programs/services/art/events of our members, so whether you’re in Coos or not, please connect with me ASAP so that we can promote you!